Petra Kuppers is a disability culture activist and a community performance artist. She is also the Anita Gonzalez Professor of Performance Studies and Disability Culture in the English and Women’s & Gender Studies departments at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
She also teaches on the low-residency MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College.
Petra uses somatic and speculative writing as well as performance practice to engage audiences toward more socially just and enjoyable futures. She has written academic books on disability arts and culture, medicine and performance, and community performance.
For her performance/dance website, see here. This website here focuses more on her creative writing (and boundaries between all these forms are fluid and something she enjoys playing with).
Her first poetry collection, Cripple Poetics: A Love Story (2008) was a collaboration with poet and performance artist Neil Marcus and photographer Lisa Steichman. It appeared with Homofactus Press, a small, digital publishing company that published books aimed at trans people, genderqueers, and queers living with disabilities. The interior of the book is available for free download.
Her second poetry collection, PearlStitch, appeared with Spuyten Duyvil Press (2016), and the press also brought out her first speculative short story collection, Ice Bar, in 2018. A chapbook of speculative poems, Green Orion Woman, appeared 2018 with Dancing Girl Press.
Her third poetry collection, Gut Botany, appeared in a viral world in March 2020, as part of the Made in Michigan Series with Wayne State University Press. It was named one of the top ten poetry books of 2020 by the New York Public Library. In 2022, it received the Creative Book Award by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.
Petra’s poems and short stories have appeared in British and US journals like Edge Effects, Orion, Ploughshares, Poetry, Anomaly, PANK, Adrienne, Accessing the Future, The Future Fire, The Sycamore Review, Visionary Tongue, Wordgathering, Poets for Living Waters, Disability Studies Quarterly, Beauty is a Verb: New Poetics of Disability, textsound, Streetnotes, About Place, and QDA: A Queer Disabled Anthology.
She is the Artistic Director of The Olimpias, an international disability culture collective, and she is the co-creator of a community performance environment in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Turtle Disco, with her wife Stephanie Heit.
Petra is an emeritus fellow of the Black Earth Institute, an ecopoetic community that re-forges the links between art and spirit, earth and society (2018-2022).
Video: Opening poem of Gut Botany
Video: a reading from PearlStitch
Petra Kuppers, petra.kuppers at gmail.com
Here is the old Olimpias website, full of link (some defunct! sorry!) to over twenty years of disability community dance and performance work: The Olimpias disability culture collective website
And here is the COVID era reboot website, Petra’s current performance and dance work
A recent publication about Turtle Disco, about how we started and how we continue to create disability culture work in pandemic times:
‘Online Intimacies and Artful Life in Turtle Disco Zoomshells,’ in: Art as Social Practice: Technologies for Change, edited by xtine burrough and Judy Walgren, Routledge, 2022: 241-237. PDF here:
Online Intimacies and Artful LIfe in Turtle Disco Zoomshells Kuppers 2022
Some sample sessions at Turtle Disco (all free):
(Pre-COVID description:) Queer Dreaming:
Please join us in Turtle Disco for Queer Dreaming, Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Turtle Disco women began this series on the anniversary of the Pulse tragedy, as a way to connect ourselves to wider webs of memory and queer love. Dreamers engage in a 20 minute journey, followed by open writing time.
We have pillows, mats and blankets, and we practice disability culture space-holding: our house is wheelchair accessible, and we do not use sage or other scents. The practice is queer-led, seeks new kin and new responsibilities, and honors many different cultural pathways to lucid/shamanic dreaming (we aim not to engage in Native American appropriation).
(Before COVID:) These somatic classes start with a short movement warm-up. Then, we’ll dive into our senses, exploring bodily boundaries on our yoga mats and under colorful blankets. We encounter ourselves and our micro-worlds, response-able to minute shifts, desires, and sensual states. We end on solo processing — writing, drawing, or moving — before we close our time together. Let’s pour our bodyminds across Turtle Disco, and tune up like jellyfish.
Radical access: let’s explore together what works for us. Ramp access, hypoallergenic doggie on the premises, queer/trans friendly, neurodiversity friendly.
(September 2020 update, for COVID-times): Amoeba Dances are going zoomy. Here is the current description of this e-experiment in communal drifting:
In Amoeba Dances, we listen to and move with sounds we are making with our own breath, in our own home, while being comfortable on a mat on the floor (or in a similar comfortable position for yourself and your particular bodymind). Our practice is informed by Pauline Oliveros’ deep listening work, by Continuum Movement, and by Olimpias disability culture practices. We use our breath to channel sounds through our body, and respond in movement. Our breath tunnels link us to new and old worlds, to moments that allow us to experience ourselves in difference, in hope, in joy, whether in relation to pain, racialization, settler status, gender, environmental trauma, or other. We encounter ourselves and our micro-worlds, response-able to minute shifts, desires, and sensual states.)
Before COVID, I also led sessions in our Salamander Lair, a materials studio. For a look at my current painterly practice, click here.
Beyond and intertwined with my creative practices, I also maintain my academic work, and links to some of the resulting publications are strewn throughout this website. Here is a sample of my disability culture pedagogy work:
Embodiment_and_Enmindment_chapter of Studying Disability Arts and Culture, Palgrave MacMillan, 2014
Ice Bar: Queer/Crip Speculative Stories
Practices of Hope Reading Series